A wireless turntable? Has the world gone mad? Or is this actually a darned smart thought? Everyone is using Bluetooth speakers, after all, and many will have an amplifier or receiver that can receive via Bluetooth. And everyone wants to get back into vinyl. But vinyl needs a phono-level input, or a separate phono stage, and soon the extras and cables can start getting in the way of an easy return to the black stuff.
So instead, plonk down your AT-LP60-BT, pair it with your Bluetooth speaker, load an LP, and press START.
So we are sending vinyl, famed for being analogue and commonly praised for its sound quality, through a digital transmission system commonly criticised for its sound quality. You might think this was doubling down on a theme ingredient of sacrilege, yet there is hope — Audio-Technica makes great entry-level turntables (the $799 AT-LP5 was recognised in our 2017 Sound+Image awards) — and it makes good Bluetooth headphones (its ATH-SR5BT won our Bluetooth Headphone of the Year).
Simply packaged and a mere 3kg in weight, the LP60BT requires delightfully little in the way of setting up, and the manual walks you through it effectively. You add the aluminium belt-driven platter, then lift the drive-belt over the brass pulley of the DC-coupled motor by means of a red ribbon which is looped around the belt with its two ends taped onto the platter (see pictures). You pull the belt into place using the ribbon. This clever system ensures you don’t get your nasty finger juices on the pristine belt, and it worked a treat, though of course you can only do it once.
While the bare deck looks distinctly entry-level in its grey plastic and big plastic buttonry, it is much improved once the platter is added and the felt mat with its big Audio-Technica logo placed on top. A very low cover slots into the back in the usual way, sitting upright happily and touching down gently when you lower it.
The arm is thin, and a short 20cm in length, but there’s a proper moving magnet cartridge, not specified but Audio-Technica-branded with a diamond stylus (the $30 ATN3600L is specified as the replacement).
And we ended up simply loving those buttons. You select ‘Size’ — 12 inches or 7, not an alternative labelling for 33⅓ and 45 rpm, for which there’s a separate push select on the front, along with ‘Start’ and ‘Stop’ buttons, and a final button to lift or lower the arm. The finger-rest on the cartridge is near unusably small, so we were just wondering how accurate the drop would be. We pressed ‘start’, expecting this to set the turntable spinning, which it did, but also automated the arm — raise, left, drop. It’s a fully-automatic turntable! — we haven’t used one in years.
It was a delight to be able to walk away and leave a record playing, knowing that the Audio-Technica would lift its own arm at the end and turn off — it’s not unknown for us to find a record quietly rotating in its end groove first thing in the morning, and even more common for us to find a turntable rotating to itself days after we finished playing records. None of that here. Think of the stylus life and power saved! There are arguments that an automatic mechanism adds friction to the arm (potential tracking error), or can add resonance and mechanical noise — which is why high-end turntables make you do all the work yourself. At this level, we must say we rather like things automatic.
Output is via your choice of Bluetooth or cable, the latter emerging from a lowly minijack without earthing, switchable between raw phono-level output or line-level, so you can also wire this into an amp which lacks a phono turntable input.
We already had the Cambridge Audio Yoyo M Bluetooth speakers up and running (see elsewhere in this issue), so we began by creating an oh-so modern system by simply plonking the A-T between them on our desk.
But how do you pair something that doesn’t have a screen? You get it close to your pairee, as it were, put that (so the Yoyos) into pairing mode, then hold down the big white Bluetooth button on the turntable until it flashes all bonkers colours at once. It latched on to the Yoyos in a few seconds, the light turned full blue, we loaded Tom Petty’s ‘Full Moon Fever’. And pressed ‘Start’.
Well for starters, it felt like lots of fun. We took a picture and put it on Facebook. We turned up the volume and enjoyed the clarity of it — nothing which immediately identified it as flawed or entry-level, except perhaps a certain softness up top; indeed but for the disc going round and round, the music might have been streaming from a phone. While later, through a larger system, there were limitations of the turntable audible, the match with the Yoyos was perfect, and we enjoyed Petty’s lush Jeff Lynne production and the jangling of guitars. As noted in the Cambridge review, the M speakers create a well-balanced smaller-scaled simulcrum of reality, and the joys of vinyl came through clearly. Speed proved accurate, with the lines on our strobe advancing only infinitessimally slowly.
Also visiting for review was Moon’s NEO Ace, an all-in-one amp/streamer offering three possible paths by which to receive the Audio-Technica — it is equipped with Bluetooth, it has a phono input, and line-level inputs. We got the turntable to re-pair with the Moon (we had to turn the Yoyos off) and soon had the vinyl playing through the Moon to our high-quality German standmounts, just the things for some critical listening.
Here we could enjoy a full-scale punchy and powerful turntable sound. We spun up The Police’s ‘Ghost in the Machine’, and from Spirits… to Demolition Man, Sting’s bass was particularly full yet taut, no intrusive booming, rather a rhythmic driving force under the music, filling out a real bottom octave and punctuation at the top of its range.
If there was a lack of anything it was sparkle; the Audio-Technica was not exactly soft, but certainly curtailed in airiness, with little in the way of presence or incisiveness to the higher frequencies. But of course this was via Bluetooth. We should judge it on how it performs under the best possible connection.
We entrusted the LP60BT with side ‘C’ of Jack White’s recent ‘Acoustic Recordings’ release, first through the A-T’s own phono stage and out at line level, next through that of the Moon. Each showed that there was more to be revealed over and above the Bluetooth sound, and that there remains a quality reward for using cables. While presence was still low on vocals, the sense of loss at the top was no longer a distraction, so that the right-channel shaker in the second half of White’s bluegrass version of Top Yourself had plenty of swish up there, while the Moon’s phono stage in particular showed this to be a capable little turntable in its soundstaging, the individual instruments behind White each given its position and space. Later, playing Zep 4, Bonham’s ride cymbal on the penultimate verse of Stairway had plenty of ting through the Moon’s phono stage, but when we switched back to Bluetooth the relative softness was confirmed, the cymbal much softened, things sounding significantly more ‘closed in’ and far less well defined.
With this level of window to its characteristics, the remarkable success of this budget turntable was shown — some congestion between elements as pace and complexity rose, some boxiness as lower mids filled out with bluster. But we heard no wow or flutter (this is quoted at <0.25%, WTD @3kHz, JIS); and on one occasion when we noticed outer-groove instability on solo piano, it turned out to be the pressing.
So for its price, the AT-LP60-BT performed with a surprising level of hi-fi sensibilities, with the Bluetooth transmission limiting this only through a high level of hi-fi gear, which would most likely appreciate a pricier deck anyway. Of course quadrupling the budget will bring you a turntable that can unfold your vinyl grooves to another level of reality and clarity of separation. (Ah, but will it be automatic and wireless, you cry! No...)
You get the best out of this turntable by cabling things together, if you can, especially if you’re playing back through full-sized speakers. But if you’re playing through a smaller size of Bluetooth speaker, even a high-quality one, the wireless link here makes the AT-LP60BT a wonderfully convenient way to bolt vinyl back onto the systems of today. And if your Bluetooth speaker is part of a multiroom system, you should be able to pipe vinyl throughout your home! You might like to try connecting into the auxiliary socket by cable, to see if it sounds better... but of course then you couldn’t amaze your friends by crying ‘Hey guys, I got wireless vinyl!’
+ Remarkably good sound; Fully automatic; Bluetooth/line-level/phono
- Looks its price; Still sounds best via cables
- Looks its price; Still sounds best via cables
Type: belt-drive, fully automatic
Speeds: 33⅓, 45rpm
Outputs: Bluetooth (SBC codec), line-level (2.5mV nominal; phono level (150mV nominal)
Dimensions (whfd): 360 x 97 x 356mm